Buffalo Book Review: Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell




I should start by noting that I am an unrepentant Young Adult fiction junkie. When I feel guilty about it, I point out that my B.A. is in English, so I have read and written papers (of varying quality) about Ye Olde Literarye Classicses. I have served my time with Shakespeare and Chaucer. I can spot a theme at 50 paces. I can take an object that appears on exactly one page and write a 20-page paper about its symbolism. I gots the book chops, yo, is what I’m sayin’.

But since I am no longer paying ludicrous amounts of money to be told what to read, I get to pick my own books, and dammit, I just loves me some YA. Serious, fo’ realsies, deep-down-in-my-soul love. YA dystopias and post-apocalyptic stuff mostly, but if it’s well-written, I’ll read just about any YA I can get my hands on. And there are some authors–like John Green–who have therefore become Total Rock Stars in my literary world. And when a Total Rock Star recommends a book, I pay attention.

So it happened recently that John Green recommended Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. And not only that, but he linked to a mad sale Amazon was having, where it was listed at like $5 for the hardcover. So I figured what the heck, I’d give it a go–I’ll take a $5 gamble on something a Total Rock Star says he loved.

And ZOMG you guys. THIS BOOK.

There are certain elements of YA fiction that turn off a lot of readers–the angst, the swooning, the Incredibly Bad Thing That Is Happening to One of the Characters–and I’ll just tell you straight out: all those things are in this book. All of them. 100% of that list is represented. But.


The thing that makes this book so brain-meltingly good is that all those things are represented, and as I was reading it and coming toward the novel’s climax I had a moment when I thought very clearly “Wellp, it’s inevitable that this particular trope is going to play out, so we may as well get it done”, but in the moment you don’t even care.

Think back to high school for a second. Remember that one person you liked? The one you like liked, not the one who was just your pal. The one who could say something like “nice shirt” and suddenly you were rethinking your entire wardrobe so you could wear nothing but that shirt and shirts exactly like it forever; the one who could say “nice shirt” and for the next three days all you could think about was whether “nice shirt” meant “as pieces of fabric go, that one doesn’t suck” or if it maybe actually meant “that shirt is nice and you look nice in it and I am secretly in love with you”, and then you’d get all breathless and have to go do anything else for a while?

This book will take you back to that place. It nails down that feeling so completely that while I was reading it, I was actually getting all swoon-y. There is a scene where the two main characters’ pinkies touch, and I let out a little squeak. There are scenes involving mixtapes that made me want someone to make me a mixtape so badly I would’ve paid money for it (related: is there a service like that? If not, there should be. Mixtapes rule).

So yes, this is a YA novel with all the YA stuff that makes people hate YA fiction. But this is also a time capsule, a window into your own past, a way to feel exactly like you were 16 again but without any of the attendant skin problems or parental hassles. And when the inevitable YA tropes play out, it will be ok, because for a few shining hours you’ll be 16 and in love and stupid-giddy. And that, to my mind, is well worth the price of admission.

TL;DR: Yes, it’s YA fiction with all the elements that make people hate YA fiction. But it will reach directly into your soul like a wormhole to your own emotional past, and for a little while you’ll be a teenager in self-doubting love again.

Rating: 8/10 Muddy Hoofprints, because I loveloveloved it but I get it that YA is not for everyone. If the thought of swooning makes you puke, cruise on by. We’ll stay here and swoon without you.



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